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The Michigan Daily Administration News Beat will be conducting interviews with the incumbent and challenging candidates for University of Michigan Board of Regents prior to the November midterm elections. Our second interview is with incumbent Regent Andrea Fischer Newman (R).
Newman is an alum of the University and has served on the board for the last 24 years. Recently retired, Newman was senior vice president of Government Affairs for Delta Air Lines. She has served on a number of boards and committees in her career.
The Michigan Daily: You’ve been on the board for a decent amount of time and seen the University go through changes, so what made you decide to run again?
Andrea Newman: The University is an exciting place. It has been amazing to be a part of seeing it grow the way it has and expand and do all the things it’s doing today. There’s so much we’re doing that I want to see through. This isn’t a full time a job … It’s a lot of work but we meet 10 times a year, but the really interesting stuff comes in the middle when you’re learning and experiencing what the University is doing. You’re out on your own and meeting with people and talking to people … When I started on the board, the student population was about a third of where it is today in terms of the entering freshmen class … There’s just so much more that we can do that we’re sort of on the cusp of doing now and that’s what made me really do it again. At one point, I thought it’s been fantastic but there’s still more to do. I want to see us consistently ranked the number one public university in the country.
TMD: Over your career as regent, what goals do you have of the board that still haven’t quite been met?
AN: Affordability and accessibility are the two big ones. And you could argue that well, “Why haven’t you been working on this?” Well, the fact of the matter is we have but we’re finally now in a position where we’ve been able to raise the money. Back in 2004-2006, as the tuition started to go up because the state funding went down, I recognized that this was becoming unaffordable for really the middle class. The poor get loans and the wealthy can afford it, but it’s the middle class getting squeezed out of an education. I felt strongly that we needed to raise money to endow tuition if you will. We started in 2006 with the President’s Challenge and in the first year raised $90 million for financial aid. We’ve just raised $1.1 billion for student scholarships. It’s a great number but it’s not enough and the reason it’s not enough is that’s only going to throw off about $40 million a year. We need to do more to make education affordable and accessible, and that’s why I’m running again. My focus is on scholarships, raising money, cutting costs and making it affordable so that everybody can afford to be here who’s admitted because right now they can’t.
TMD: You’ve consistently opposed tuition increases, but how do you plan to counteract the efforts of the board to increase this amount?
AN: It’s interesting — the board has been effective at keeping the tuition increases lower than I think some might like them to be. I know this budget really well, and I know we don’t have to raise tuition every year. I know there are more creative things we could be doing. One thing I’ve learned on the campaign is that this is the number one issue and conveyed that to my colleagues, I said, ‘Guys, we live in this ivory tower here but I think everybody understands that affordability and accessibility are the most important issues ahead of us because we can’t price people out of an education.’ I think you’ll see change, but it is all about the budget. My concern is that we’re not pushing hard enough to keep the budget down and I will keep pushing … It’s hard to vote against these increases, but it has to be done.
TMD: I know an issue that’s been brought up by students and faculty in the regents meetings this year has been the issue of carbon neutrality and the lack of a set goal on the part of the University. Do you have any thoughts on this issue?
AN: The board is 100 percent behind this initiative and has been. I’ve been talking to Prof. Kelbaugh. I know how important this is … The regents really react to students as does the administration. I try to explain this to students if there’s an issue, come and tell us about it, don’t go and sit and complain. This is part of having elected regents, is come to public comment, email us. We’re accessible, we actually respond and we want to. I do especially and I think I have over many many years. I think in terms of getting to carbon neutrality we don’t have a choice … but we’re on it.
TMD: Are there any other issues you want to focus on if elected again?
AN: Quality of the education, the excellence in teaching. In order to have that, you have to have the best faculty, the best lecturers, staff and you need to pay them. I am a strong proponent of making sure people know they’re appreciated. The third thing that I’m focused on and proud of and being involved in helping change is the Opportunity Hub and the internships — focusing on students getting jobs after they graduate if that’s what they want. I think that you can come here and have a great time for four years, do well, get a degree but if you don’t have some idea of what you want to do and some help doing it when you leave here then we failed. It’s not that world anymore where you can come and get a history degree and not know what you want to do. You need to have something. For everyone, not just undergraduates, graduate students too.
TMD: Has this campaign been different from your previous ones?
AN: Yeah, it feels very different. I have a pretty pragmatic approach to things and one of the things that I’m most proud of is that parts and politics does not interfere into what we do on the Board of Regents, we try not to. It’s been a different kind of campaign because many different people are focused on voting. It’s harder to get your message out because of technology and everybody is flooding the airwaves, the digital waves and the radio waves and everything else.
TMD: Is there anything else you want to add?
AN: I felt privileged to go here when I went here. I was an RA (resident adviser), worked in the kitchen. I put myself through, not because my parents couldn’t help me but I wanted to do it. The fact of the matter is I could (pay for school) by working part-time and by being an RA. You couldn’t do that today, it doesn’t pay enough. We have to figure out how to fix the middle-class problem and we’re not there. You don’t want to squeeze anyone out of here.